With Chinese New Year celebrations around the corner, many might be tempted to flout rules to catch up friends and family. After all, Singaporeans have been deprived of large group gatherings for a relatively long time now. Clearing one’s annual leave by going on a long holiday abroad during Chinese New Year is also out of the question. Since the festive period is synonymous with socialising, surely, Singapore can afford to let loose a little, right?
Isn’t Singapore already safe?
Although Singapore has a relatively low number of community infection cases, there have been troubling signs. Over the past week, the country has seen an increase in the number of local cases, some of which are unlinked. This has resulted in the formation of community clusters, which could mean that there is wider net of undetected community transmission. The reservoir of hidden cases may spread quickly during the Chinese New Year period and lead to another large wave of infections should Singaporeans not continue to practise social distancing.
All efforts to curb the spread of the virus may be for nought if Singaporeans do not do their part and take the necessary precautions during Chinese New Year. Should local Covid-19 cases skyrocket again, Singapore may resort to implementing harsher restrictions, like those that were present during Phase Two.
What can I do to prevent community spread during Chinese New Year?
1. Follow the Rules
Singapore’s safe management rules this Chinese New Year are rather simple and easy to follow. Broadly categorised, they revolve around regulations that you should abide by while eating out and while visiting others’ homes.
When dining outside, Singaporeans are expected to wear a mask if they are not eating or drinking. Similarly, when tossing yusheng, wear as a mask as you aren’t eating or drinking. You also need to avoid raising your voice or shouting auspicious phrases to prevent saliva droplets from landing on the yusheng, which will be subsequently consumed by everyone else at the table. The act of shouting can also cause saliva droplets to fly substantially further than usual, thus increasing the risk of transmissions. Instead of shouting well-wishes, consider using apps that replicate the same. Traditional Chinese New Year tunes can also be played in the background while tossing yusheng.
Singaporeans should also not make multiple table bookings, unless the members at the same table are from the same household. But even so, there should not be inter-mingling across tables. This also means that you ideally should not have a lohei session with different groups of friends during Chinese New Year at different restaurants. The rule of thumb is to avoid physically meeting with too many people to reduce the chance of you contracting the virus from someone else, or spreading it to a loved one.
Gatherings at Home
One key regulation rolled out as of 26 January 2021 is the cap of eight unique visitors per household per day. The visitor cap aims to limit the number of potential cross-contamination and to contain any possible virus spread. You are also encouraged to limit visits to your family and to not visit more than two households per day. Singaporeans can choose to connect digitally with family and friends instead, especially in households with
2. Hosting safe gatherings at home
Try to encourage hygiene and good social distancing at home during gatherings. You can also place hand sanitisers and extra masks at the front door for your guests to use before entering your home. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.
When it comes to food, try to provide single-use options, such as salad dressing and condiment packets, as well as disposable items like plates and utensils. While it is typical for everyone to dip their fingers into a large plastic container of Chinese New Year snacks like pineapple tarts, love letters, or bak kwa, this creates a common touch surface to further the spread of COVID-19. Instead of sticking your fingers into the container, pour out and separate the contents into individual serving dishes.
Ideally, you should also avoid playing Mahjong as it involves four individuals touching the same tiles repeatedly, allowing transmissions to occur. Alternatively, you can clean or disinfect the tiles before every game.
While it can be difficult to refuse entry of guests as the host, there is a need to refuse guests who are displaying Covid-19 symptoms such as sneezing or coughing for the health of everyone. If you are ill, postpone the gathering
3. To minimise exposure, limit time spent together
We all know that Chinese New Year gatherings can extend out to be day long affairs. However, it is important to note that prolonged exposure to other people can lead to an increase in risk. In other words, the longer you spend with a Covid-19 carrier, the higher the risk of transmission. According to America’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, you are a close contact if you spend a total of 15 minutes within six feet of an infected person over the course of a 24-hour period, starting two days before the onset of illness. This is because the very small aerosol droplets that are under 100 micrometre are known to hang around the air for hours, becoming more concentrated in the vicinity of the infected person. This makes reducing the time that people spend together important.
4. Hold outdoor gatherings if possible
If you can hold the Chinese New Year Celebration outdoors, such as at barbeque pits or with a picnic along the beach, do it. This is because the Coronavirus isn’t great at surviving outdoors. In a study of 318 early Covid-19 outbreaks in China, only one of them involved someone catching it outdoors. A virus has a protective coat of moisture around it. When outdoors, there is sunlight, wind, rain and humidity hitting it, which breaks apart the protective layer and decays the virus. Of course, being outdoors has its own set of dangers such as coming into contact with the strangers, the need to disinfect surfaces more thoroughly, and more.
Alternatively at home, you can also bring in fresh air by opening your windows and doors. A fan can be placed near one of the open windows to blow air out of the window and pull air in through the other open windows. By opening multiple windows and doors in every room possible, the air exchange rate can increase by as much as three times an hour. This way, should there be any Coronavirus lurking in the air particles, they can be expelled and be replaced by fresh air. You can also turn on air cleaners with a high clean air delivery rate (CADR), or exhaust fans typically found in bathrooms or over the stove to expel the air out of your home entirely.
At its heart, 2021’s Chinese New Year is still a season to show appreciation and love for your family and friends. The best way forward will be to ensure the health and safety of everyone by practising social distancing and enforcing strong hygiene standards.